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From skepticism to science: La cueva de Salamanca and the construction of modern thought.

Jose Maria Lopez Pinero has argued that the "mentalidad contra-reformista," which brought with it a resurgence of Scholasticism I and the concomitant imposition of ideological orthodoxy in Spain, effectively put an end to what had been up until the end of the sixteenth century a society open to scientific investigation. (1) Not only did the expansion of the Spanish empire into the Indies lead to new discoveries in such diverse fields as cartography, engineering, mineralogy, and natural history, but Spain also remained open to new ideas emanating from northern Europe. Copernican heliocentrism, which put into question the Ptolemaic universe, was taught at the University of Salamanca and the anatomy of Vesalius, which challenged the received wisdom of Galen, found a home in the Yalencian School. By the end of the century, however, Spain had closed itself off to the intellectual currents that would give rise to the physics of Galileo, the chemistry of Boyle and the mathematics of Newton. "Durante casi un milenio," says Lopez Pinero, "nuestro pais habia ocupado un puesto de importancia en el panorama cientifico europeo, pero en este periodo realmente crucial se cerro en si mismo, permaneciendo totalmente al margen de las corrientes europeas" (qtd. in Gonzalez Blasco 42).

The "mentalidad contrareformista" that had taken hold in Spain could not put a stop to the epistemological crisis that was taking root in Europe, however. Responding to Aristotle's insistence that nature abhors a vacuum, Torricelli in Italy, Pascal in France and Boyle in England devised experiments to demonstrate the existence of the void, which posed a powerful threat to the Aristotelian notion of the filled universe. To the great philosopher's argument that the laws of motion that governed the celestial and sub-lunar worlds were fundamentally different, Newton responded with mathematical proof that they were the same. Aristotelianism was under attack everywhere except in Spain, where the neo-Scholasticism centered primarily at the University of Salamanca silenced those who would seek to challenge traditional modes of thought. (2) But an Aristotelianism that thrust Spain back into the perfectly filled universe with an immovable Earth at its center could offer neither certainty nor solace to those for whom the medieval worldview no longer held. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the world had lost what Joan Ramon Resina has called its "immanent meaning" (221). European thought, says Resina, was experiencing a crisis that "entailed the dissolution of transcendentally authorized formal categories" (221). Meaning had become unstable, replaced by an epistemological uncertainty that the resurgence of Scholasticism could not overcome.

La nueva filosofia officially arrived in Spain in the last moments of the seventeenth century when, on May 25, 1700, Carlos II established the Regia Sociedad de Medicina. (3) It had been a long time coming. Lopez Pinero has maintained throughout his work that seventeenth-century Spanish thinkers were slow to accept the new scientific ideas emanating from northern Europe. "Solamente en las dos ultimas decadas del siglo," says Lopez Pinero, "rompieron abiertamente algunos autores espanoles con los esquemas clasicos e iniciaron la asimilacion sistematica de las nuevas corrientes" (qtd. in Gonzalez Blasco 42). In Spain, la nueva filosofia, which was already well established in France and England, found a home in a group of physicians who met in Seville to take up the practice of experimental philosophy. The Society, provincial in origin but international in aspiration, maintained correspondence with members of the Royal Society in London and the Academie des Sciences in Paris. But the Spanish attempt to participate fully in the intellectual revolution taking place in northern Europe was, for Anthony Pagden, "flawed and ultimately unsuccessful" (126), not because of fear of the Inquisition, but because Spain could never fully accept the epistemological implications of uncertainty, a strange--or perhaps not so strange--reaction to the disquiet that abounded in seventeenth-century Spain, when political insurrection and economic stagnation became the hallmark of an empire in decline. (4) Pagden argues that the New Philosophy did not take root in Spain because the uncertainty at its core drove a wedge between theology and epistemology: "And the very principles upon which [the New Philosophy] was based, even though they ultimately provided a refutation of skepticism, did so only by first accepting the possibility of doubt. No neo-Thomist could accept the wishes of both Descartes and his followers to detach theology from epistemology and natural science" (139). The problem of uncertainty was more than a political problem, however. For skeptics like Francisco Sanches, for whom nothing could be known, (5) and pessimists like Baltasar Gracian, for whom the world was filled with engano, (6) doubt represented an obstacle to knowledge. Sanches, for example, argued that "all knowledge is invention ("fictio" [111])" (201), by which he meant that Aristotelian demonstrations grounded in definitions that were assumed but not proven could not offer knowledge of a thing in itself: "to assume a supposition is not to know but to invent ("fingere" (111]); consequently it is invention, not knowledge, that will emerge from assumptions" (201). For Sanches, "fictio," something that was shaped, formed or made, was not knowledge. In the hands of Cervantes, however, it was.

Cervantes, an author steeped in the learning of Christian Humanism but writing in a time of epistemological change, was not unaffected by the larger intellectual currents of his day. (7) John G. Weiger reminds us that meaning remains elusive in Cervantes (231), and especially so in his Don Quijote, a work Resina calls a "masterful articulation of epistemological undecidability" (222), whose resistance to definitive interpretation has contributed to its long critical history. But as Manuel Duran concludes at the end of his treatise on ambiguity in Don Quijote, "la ambigudad es asi un indicio de su continuada influencia y de su esencial modernidad" (271). For Duran, at least, indeterminacy goes hand in hand with modernity. (8)

While later thinkers would self-consciously throw off the past in order to put knowledge on a new footing, Cervantes discovered in traditional learning the seeds of a new epistemology. Unlike Descartes, who would famously announce that "as soon as age permitted me to emerge from the supervision of my teachers, I completely abandoned the study of letters" (5), Cervantes embraced the knowledge embedded in the received ideas that still held sway in seventeenth-century Spain, fashioning from the Aristotelianism of theorists like Alonso Lopez Pinciano and the images of the ancient gods a new understanding of how to know the world. (9) What we see in La cueva de Salamanca is the student Carraolano, a youth more versed in the arts of deception than enlightenment, who exploits the power of theater to transform actor into role--something into nothing--becoming in the course of the entremes a modern-day Vulcan, an imperfect god cast out of Olympus and left to labor on Earth. (10) Like Vulcan, Carraolano is an artisan, whose artistic creation is more human than divine. But unlike his mythological forebear, Carraolano gives form to epistemological structures--objects of knowledge rendered as objets d'art--from the multiple perspectives he both finds and fosters in the hapless Pancracio's house. Because his is human knowledge born of the indeterminacy at the heart of modernity, it is inherently unstable. It would be left to the natural philosophers working in other parts of Europe to establish the foundations of the experimental method and bring order to the play of perspectives we see in La cueva de Salamanca. But they would never be able to make whole the provisional truths Cervantes lays bare in his work.

If Pancracio's dilemma at the beginning of La cueva de Salamanca is how to manage the absence that will inevitably result from his inability to discharge all of his familial responsibilities, Leonardos dilemma is how to engineer her husband's departure without arousing suspicion that there is anything amiss at home. Equally loath to leave his wife and miss his sister's wedding, Pancracio decides to attend the ceremony, arguing that "cuatro dias no son siglos" even as he acknowledges that "sin mi presencia se podra casar mi hermana" (237-38). Playing the role of the devoted wife in a metaplay of her own creation, Leonarda picks up the theme of absence in her mock complaint to her servant Cristina that Pancracio's departure will deprive her of all pleasure: "Porque, ausente de mi gusto, no se hicieron los placeres ni las glorias para mi; penas y dolores, si" (239). Leonarda is the first to introduce a metaplay into the entremes. Hers is a theater of action designed to assure her husband of her love and fidelity. By projecting the illusion of stability at home, Leonarda simultaneously gives the cuckolded Pancracio tacit permission to leave and opens a space in her home for her lover, the Sacristan Reponce. The artlessness of her scene threatens to thwart her plans, however, when, moved by his wife's feigned swoon, Pancracio begins to reconsider his decision, saying, "Mi angel, si gustas que me quedes, no me movere de aqui mas que una estatua" (238). The language Leonarda uses in her metaplay betrays how little she understands the theatrical piece she herself is producing. She desperately insists that Pancracio go, using as many imperatives as she can muster until she celebrates his departure with a triumphant " Vayas, y no vuelvas!" (239). The repeated use or ir in this scene ("id," "os vais," "vaya," "vayas") emphasizes Leonardos desperation, but it also stands in stark contrast to the repeated use of "salir" in the closing scenes of the play, when the student Carraolano, who comes to the house seeking shelter shortly after Pancracio's departure, introduces a second metaplay into the entremes. While Leonarda understands absence as the antithesis of presence, it will be left to Carraolano to create a space at the intersection of presence and absence, something and nothing.

Pancracio's sudden return home after his carriage loses a wheel exposes the limited scope of Leonarda's metaplay. Her dramatic scene at the beginning of La cueva is nothing but a simple ruse that proves incapable of fundamentally altering the essential conditions of her life because her husband and her lover cannot coexist in the same space. That she waits to open the outer door for Pancracio until the Sacristan is tucked safely away in the coal bin is a tacit admission that the presence of one requires the absence of the other. Carraolano, however, has a more nuanced understanding of the power of theater to transform. Reasoning that it is better to be dismissed as a poor student than mistaken for a lover, Carraolano decides to reveal himself before Pancracio finds him hiding in the hayloft. What Pancracio does not know is that it is not Carraolano's presence in the house that poses a threat to his honor but what the student has learned in Pancracio's absence that jeopardizes the delicate balance of power in the house. If Leonarda's dalliance undermines the legitimate authority Pancracio should enjoy as head of his household, her agreement to allow Carraolano into her home undermines the power over her husband that she has gained for herself. Neither Pancracio nor Leonarda now enjoy absolute authority in their home; power has become the product of a functional relationship between the known and the unknown.

In the course of La cueva, Carraolano will portray himself as a modern-day Vulcan, who, like his mythological forebear, discovers in imperfection the foundation of his artistry. Cast out of Olympus shortly after his birth, Vulcan becomes the smithy to the gods, the architect of Jupiter's jagged thunderbolts and the designer of Achilles's shield. (11) In his Philosophia secreta, a sixteenth-century compendium of GrecoRoman mythology, Juan Perez de Moya depicts Vulcan as "artifice de Minerua y herrero" hard at work at his forge (111): "lleno de tizne, y ahumado, y muy feo, y coxo de vna pierna, con un martillo en la mano; y la pintura mostrando como que los Dioses con impetu le echauan del Cielo" (111). Perez de Moya makes clear that Vulcan is a fallen figure--a lame god--whose craftsmanship, however exquisite, can never achieve celestial perfection:
   Que fuesse Vulcano echado de su padre [Jupiter], o segun algunos de
   su madre por su fealdad, es porque el fuego engendrado en las
   nuues, por quien es entendido Vulcano, como participa de materia
   crasa, comparado con el elementar, que es purisimo, parece craso, y
   feo, y apenas digno que se nombre fuego, y por esta causa fue
   echado al lugar de las cosas impuras, como a legitima possession,
   por la fuerca de los cuerpos superiores, o por la naturaleza
   superior del ayre. Que de la cayda quedasse coxo, esto es, por
   mostrar causa del como Vulcano fue coxo, aunque lo fue desde su
   nacimieto, en quato significa el fuego que se causa en el ayre, y
   el mismo material, qualquiera dellos dizen que es coxo, porque sus
   mouimientos no le hazen derecho, como parece en el fuego de los
   rayos q no deciende derecho; sino dando bueltas, culebreando; y el
   fuego engendrado en la tierra tambien no tiene mouimiento derecho,
   porque subiendo azia arriba, sus llamas tuercen a vna parte y a
   otra a los lados, y a las vezes subiendo parece que se encoge, y
   torna abaxo, y cae como coxo, que andando parece que cae azia el
   lado del pie de que es coxo. (113)

Although a god, Vulcan works with earthly materials; his fire does not participate in the purity and perfection of the celestial spheres. Although identified with fire, Vulcan tends an inferior flame that rises toward the heavens only to fall lamely back to Earth. (12) And although a virtuoso, Vulcan remains a mere craftsman, who, through the power of fire, transforms the "materia crasa" found in the deepest recesses of the Earth into works of art worthy of the gods.

Carraolano is fully aware of himself as just such an artisan from the very moment Pancracio returns home. The student is a self-conscious craftsman, who constructs a new kind of knowledge, one that is not pure and absolute, but an alloy, an admixture of ignorance and omniscience, the human and the divine. Like Vulcan, Carraolano is a compromised figure, who finds his place in Pancracio's house only after careening down from on high. Pleading for help after plummeting precipitously from the hayloft, Carraolano cries out with a plaintive " Abranme aqui, senores, que me ahogo" (248), to which a wary Pancracio responds, "Pero ve, Cristina, y abrele; que se le debe de haber caido toda la paja acuesta" (248; my emphasis). Unlike Vulcan, who is cast out of Olympus by Jupiter, a god who remains a divine power after Vulcan takes up residence on Earth, Carraolano abandons the hayloft for the house, leaving behind a void in the region of the divine that threatens to undermine the authority and integrity of knowledge itself.

When Carraolano first arrives at the house and identifies himself as having "graduado de bachiller de Salamanca," he suggests that he has studied at the University of Salamanca, the seat of traditional Aristotelian learning (242). The student inspires more envy than pity, especially in the supercilious Sacristan, who suspects that the young man "sabe mas latin que yo" (245). But when Carraolano later explains to Pancracio that he has taken instruction not at the University but in the Cave of the same name, he situates himself at the intersection of the official knowledge sanctioned by Catholic Spain and the occult knowledge found in forbidden space: (13)
   La ciencia que aprendi en la Cueva de Salamanca, de donde yo soy
   natural, si se dejara usar sin miedo de la Santa Inquisicion, yo se
   que cenara y recenara a costa de mis herederos; y aun quiza no
   estoy muy fuera de usalla, siquiera por esta vez, donde la
   necesidad me fuerza y me disculpa; pero no se yo si estas senoras
   seran tan secretas como yo lo he sido. (249)

The secrets in Carraolano's possession have the capacity to undo all the power relations in the house. He can betray Leonarda's trust and reveal her deception or he can keep his word and safeguard her secret. But Carroalano chooses another way: he uses theater's power to transform to bring to light Pancracio's uncrowning without doing harm to Leonarda.

The students physical fall from the hayloft signals a treacherous epistemological change as the Scholastic verities taught at the University of Salamanca give way to the provisional truths Carraolano constructs in his forge. Perez de Moya makes clear that the fire in Vulcan's forge is imperfect, explaining that it is "engedrado en la tierra, que es el artificial sacado de piedras" (112). Carraolano's knowledge is similarly earthy. Telling Pancracio that he has the power to make demons appear, Carraolano beckons the Sacristan and Cristina's lover, the Barbero, out of the coal bin where they have been hiding, saying:
   Hallastes amparo a vuestra desgracia,
   Salid, y en los hombros con priesa y con gracia,
   Sacad la canasta de la fiambrera.
   No me inciteis a que de otra manera
   Mas dura os conjure. Salid;  que esperais?
   Mirad que si a dicha el salir rehusais,
   Tendra mal suceso mi nueva quimera. (251)

The metaplay that Carraolano produces at the end of La cueva serves as a contrast to the one Leonarda puts on at the beginning of the entremes. Unlike Leonarda, who merely wants the gullible Pancracio to go ("ir"), Carraolano calls for the Sacristan and the Barbero to come out ("salir"). As Carraolano coaxes the pair of lovers out of hiding, he transforms them into fictional characters, who come out onto the stage to entertain the audience. All but Pancracio know that the "demonios en figuras humanas" dancing before him are in fact men of flesh and blood who exist at the intersection of something and nothing (249). Absence and presence are not the mutually exclusive terms they were in Leonardos metaplay. In Carraolano's hands, one is the function of the other. The character emerges as the actor disappears but both are fully visible on the stage. Pancracio, however, continues to see presence and absence in absolute terms. For him, the demons conjured up by the student are empty of significance. As a result, he willingly joins in the festivities that bring La cueva to a close, not understanding that he is celebrating his own uncrowning by persisting in the belief that "no hay Lucrecia que se [le] llegue, ni Porcia que se le iguale: la honestidad y el recogimiento han hecho en ella [Leonarda] su morada" (245).

What we witness in La cueva de Salamanca is the dismantling of the absolute as Carraolano seeks to keep his promise to Leonarda to conceal her indiscretion and keep his promise to Pancracio to reveal his forbidden knowledge. Knowledge, presence, and power--which manifest themselves in the divine nature as omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence--express themselves in human terms as a relationship between the "is" and the "is not." The Sacristan and the Barbero, who are at once fully present and fully absent as they come out onto Carraolano's stage, put Pancracio's dishonor on display for all to see. Pancracio can now rest secure in the knowledge that Leonarda is a faithful wife only to the extent that he can dismiss as fiction the occult truth of Carraolano's metaplay. In creating a fictional space within Pancracio's house, Carraolano changes the nature of modern knowledge. No longer merely a question of presence or absence, the known or the unknown, meaning has become a function of both. That there can exist more than one legitimate reading of Carraolano's metaplay renders power a relational concept as well. The authority Pancracio now enjoys in his house has become a function of the meaning he confers on the "figuras" before them. His understanding, however, also has grave consequences for Leonarda, whose very life depends on Pancracio's interpretation of Carraolano's creation.

Pancracio may believe that his authority remains unchallenged, but the audience, whose own understanding is a function of the dramatic irony denied the cuckolded husband, knows otherwise. Because the spectators have access to information of which Pancracio is unaware, they are in a better position to distinguish fact from fiction and truth from lie. They realize, even if Pancracio does not, that his authority now rests on a false understanding of his relationship with a wife who has undermined his authority by introducing a usurper into his home. For the audience, the cathartic celebration that concludes La cueva de Salamanca is an ironic celebration of ignorance, which may temporarily preserve the status quo, but which will ultimately call into question the social system at play in the entremes. In the end, the audience laughs at Pancracio, not with him because they are in the know and he is not.

The understanding the audience enjoys is not absolute, however; it is inversely proportional to Pancracio's ignorance: the spectator is enlightened to the extent that Pancracio is snookered. This is a functional understanding of meaning that Michael Gerli has put forward in his study of EL retablo de las maravillas. Gerli argues that any interpretation of the entremeses must take into account their relationship to the come dias that serve as their frame. (14) Following the lead of Jean Canavaggio, who suggests that the interpolated interlude found in Cervantes's La entremetida functions both as a commentary on and as a corrective to the comedia of which it is a part (117-21), Gerli argues that "the Cervantine entremes should not be read as an autonomous entity, but as a part of a larger intertextual discourse on dramatic theory and the ontology of the stage" (479). El retablo de las maravillas is for Gerli an inverted honor drama whose parodie relationship with the play with which it intersects undermines the central tenets of Lope's comedia nueva. The impotent men and illegitimate children who watch the puppet show the "autor" Chanfalla has brought to town become a caricature of the seventeenth-century theatrical audience, the vulgo of Lope's Arte nuevo de hacer comedias, who had become the arbiter of artistic taste. What the audience of Cervantes's entremeses sees on stage, then, is a parodie reflection of themselves embedded in an interlude whose functional relationship to the comedia nueva invites a new reading of the of the surrounding play. As Gerli explains:
   Surely the audience of El retablo, fresh with the themes and images
   of a framing comedia in mind (and who doubtless had witnessed
   countless examples of the genre), would have been hard put not to
   catch the mocking allusions and the author's critical, indeed
   subversive, mirroring of [honrais] conventions. Their appreciation
   of the remaining acts of the comedia would doubtless have been
   transformed by a heightened awareness of the themes and formal
   canons parodied in the preceding interlude producing a new and very
   different "reading" of it. The expectations of the audience would
   thus be redefined by Cervantes' parody and implicitly deny that the
   encompassing comedia could, after the performance of El retablo, be
   taken seriously. (487-88)

Gerli suggests that meaning for Cervantes is never absolute. It can be located neither in the entremes nor in the comedia but in the relationship between the two. His insistence that El retablo be read against the comedia nueva lays bare Cervantes's understanding of the relational nature of all knowledge. (15) But while Gerli's conclusion that the entremes represents an "Arte nuevo de deshacer comedias" speaks to the specific relationship between El retablo and Lope's comedia de labradores, it fails to capture the complexity of Cervantes's understanding of the theater as a means to acquire and disseminate such knowledge. Specifically, it fails to articulate the ground upon which Cervantes forges this relationship: absolutely nothing.

Cervantes makes explicit the role nothing plays in the production of relational knowledge in the festive song that concludes La cueva de Salamanca. The Sacristan and the Barbero, who have secured their freedom through the "magical powers" of the cave, celebrate their escape from Pancracio's house into the world of fiction with an encomium to La Cueva de Salamanca. The song is at once silly and serious. Straining to find words that rhyme with "Salamanca," the Sacristan asks that everyone listen to what "el Bachiller Tudanca" had branded on the "anca" of his "potranca " (253). The ditty then concludes with a defense of the student Carraolano, a "conjurador / [...] de Loranca" who has engineered the happy ending (254). (16)

It is in the middle verses, however, that we discover that within all the frivolity there lurks a serious theme: everyone is equal in La Cueva de Salamanca:


En ella estudian los ricos Y los que no tienen blanca, Y sale entera y rolliza La memoria que esta manca. Sientanse los que alli ensenan De alquitran en una banca, Porque estas bombas encierra


La Cueva de Salamanca.


En ella se hacen discretos Los moros de la Palanca; Y el estudiante mas burdo Ciencias de su pecho arranca. A los que estudian en ella, Ninguna cosa les manca; Viva, pues, siglos eternos


La Cueva de Salamanca. (253-54)

The hierarchical structures that define the sociopolitical order of seventeenth-century Spain do not obtain in the cave. Rich and poor, Christian and Moor can all penetrate its mysteries to find enlightenment. Weak minds are made strong and the coarsest intellect can extract knowledge from its depths. The verses gain coherence through the repetition of the word "manca," an autobiographical flourish that serves as a brief reminder that Cervantes, "El manco de Lepanto," was crippled in that famous sea battle against the Ottoman Turk. But the word also serves to introduce us to the nature of empty space. Although Sebastian de Covarrubias underscores physical deformity as the primary understanding of the word, defining "manco" as "Aquel que tiene algun braco o mano debil, que no usa della," he adds that the term can also be used in a more metaphorical sense to suggest anything that is missing: "Manco, algunas vezes, significa lo que esta falto" (783). The Sacristan makes clear in verse sixteen of the romance that the cave has the power to make whole a defective or "crippled" mind: "sale entera y rolliza / La memoria que esta manca" (253). "Manca" here is an adjective that, when paired with its antonyms "rolliza" (fat, robust) and "entera," (whole) takes on the meaning of "flaca" (thin, weak, frail) and "incompleta" (incomplete). Memory here is weak because it is incomplete; it is frail by virtue of what it lacks. But if, as Aristotle claims, nature abhors a vacuum, then it is the cave that fills the void and more than fills the void as memory becomes overstuffed or "rolliza." The perfectly filled world is no longer possible. An intellect bursting at the seams can no longer be constrained.

When the adjective "manca" becomes a verb in the next strophe, a new kind of knowledge begins to emerge from the nothing contained within the Cave. The Sacristan explains that even the most limited student can extract knowledge from the cavern's depths, saying "Y el estudiante mas burdo / Ciencias de su pecho arranca. / A los que estudian en ella / Ninguna cosa les manca" (254). Knowledge is now inversely related to lack: if nothing is missing, everything is possible. This new kind of knowledge comes neither from God nor from the devil; nor does it find its origin in a distant place at some ontological remove from human life. Rather, it is modern knowledge, one that represents human understanding. Such knowledge is in fact close at hand in the "sala-manca" or "empty room" the student has conjured up in Pancracio's house. Within this space, the student forges a relationship between occult and sanctioned knowledge that allows for multiple readings of the scene, readings that leave Leonarda free, Pancracio duped, and the audience enlightened.

The "sala" of the "sala-manca" the student has created in Pancracio s house is a public space and the potential public exposure of Leonarda's illicit affair leaves her frightened: " Aqui salen nuestras maldades a plaza!" she whispers to Cristina, " Aqui soy muerta!" (250). (17) The Sacristan and the Barbero are equally reluctant to show themselves; and Carraolano must make an extra effort to bring them out of hiding, saying "Hora bien: yo se como me tengo de haber con estos demonicos humanos: quiero entrar alla dentro, y a solas hacer un conjuro tan fuerte, que los haga salir mas que de paso; aunque la calidad destos demonios, mas esta en sabellos aconsejar que en conjurallos" (251). When the Sacristan and the Barbero finally do emerge from the coal bin and dance out onto Carraolano's stage carrying the baskets of food and wine the lovers have prepared for their secret tryst, what was to be a private supper becomes a communal banquet, an unholy wedding feast that celebrates the union of the human and the demonic, present and absent, the "is" and the "is not."

Although the devils he conjures may be his creations, Carraolano is not an omnipotent god. He is a modern-day Vulcan, a fallen artisan, who, although powerful, cannot create ex nihilo. His talent is just the opposite: Carraolano creates nothing out of something. The "Sacridiablo" that the Sacristan has become admits that he and the Barbero have become "los perros del herrero, que dormimos al son de las martilladas" (252; my emphasis). Covarrubias says that this popular refran is a commentary on "los que dexando trabajar a los otros, acuden a la hora del comer, y se sustentan del sudor ageno" (684). (18) The Sacristan acknowledges that he and the Barbero have benefitted from Carraolano's machinations, disappearing from view as Carraolano transforms their "materia crasa" into works of art. But the student cannot perform this feat by himself: he must secure the consent of his creations. Carraolano is, as the Sacristan notes, a "conjurador" (254), who declares himself to be an "Amiguito [...] de diablos juradores" (252). The student's conjurings are part exorcism, part entreaty, and part conspiracy, all of whose meanings are captured in the definition of "conjurar." (19) Carraolano drives the "maldad" out into the open by pleading with the Sacristan and the Barbero to come out; and when they finally do, he convinces them both to swear to a common truth.

The demons the student conjures are not merely aesthetic creatures; they are epistemological objects that give rise to a new way of knowing. Unlike God's divine omniscience, modern thought is neither perfect nor absolute. It is a human creation born of human imperfection that nevertheless leads to real human understanding. In "Cervantes' Portrait of the Artist," for example, Mary Gaylord recognizes in Vulcan, "a crippled artist," "contingent authority," and a "sign of flawed perfection" who is both the portrait of the artist and the personification of art itself (100-01). Drawing on the argument made by Fadrique, one of the interlocutors in Lopez Pinciano's Filosofia antigua poetica, who declares that "algunas veces suele estar la obra con alguna imperfeccion, no por falta del poeta, sino de la misma arte; la cual, asi como todas las demas, tiene sus fragilidades e impotencias" (166), Gaylord argues that "the personification of art in the disfigured form of the cripple crystallizes the axiom of Art's necessary, constitutive imperfection" ("Portraits and Literary Theory" 67). Gaylord goes on to explain that

We need to reiterate Fadrique's caution: this cripple is not simply an unskilled or uninspired artist, a bad poet. The crippled artifex represents Art itself as a human endeavor with its soaring ambitions and its built-in obstacles to perfection. The fusion of Art and artifex, of Poetry and poet, in works which the author of Don Quijote knew well, amounts to a mythology of writing, which in turn helps us to appreciate the complexity of Cervantes' portraits of poets in drama, verse and prose fiction. Never mere sources of hilarity, even the most ridiculous of the "bards" of the entremeses act out the struggle, made no less moving by its absurdity, of desire for a lost wholeness. ("Portraits and Literary Theory" 67)

For Gaylord, as for Lopez Pinciano, imperfection is to be found in the work and in the crippled artist who produces it. (20) Carraolano, however, is one bard who embraces the epistemological implications of this imperfection; his desire is not to recover a lost wholeness, but to expose such perfection as an illusion.

Paula Findlen maintains that the creation of illusion for the sake of enlightenment, a theme we see throughout the work of Cervantes, (21) becomes a form of scientific play in the course of the seventeenth century. Drawing on the work of Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit interested in the study of optics, Findlen argues that some Early Modern Christian thinkers sought to exploit the porous boundary between magic and science by "assuming] the guise of the Christian magus, conjuring up images to provoke the ignorant into awestruck silence, and to teach the learned that even the devil's play could be scientifically dissected" (324). In transforming the Sacristan and the Barbero into demons, nothings who expose the seeming perfection of Pancracio's marriage as a sham, Carraolano, the "artifice coxo" of La cueva de Salamanca, engages in this kind of "devil's play" in order to reveal Pancracio's certainty as folly. (22) What we see in La cueva de Salamanca is the beginning of an epistemological shift that occurs throughout seventeenth-century Europe as uncertainty begins to take its place as a constituent feature of human knowledge. Nowhere was this shift more evident than in the realm of natural philosophy. In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, published toward the end of the century, John Locke laments that the experimental philosophy that had begun to replace the more metaphysical understanding of the natural world was not capable of producing "scientifical" or certain knowledge:
   And therefore I am apt to doubt that, how far soever humane
   Industry may advance useful and experimental Philosophy in physical
   Things, scientifical will still be out of our reach: because we
   want perfect and adequate Ideas of those very Bodies, which are
   nearest to us, and most under our Command. Those which we have
   ranked into Classes under names, and we think our selves best
   acquainted with, we have but very imperfect, and incompleat Ideas
   of. Distinct Ideas of the several sorts of Bodies, that fall under
   the Examination of our Senses, perhaps, we may have: but adequate
   Ideas, I suspect, we have not of any one amongst them. And though
   the former of these will serve us for common Use and Discourse: yet
   whilst we want the latter, we are not capable of scientifical
   Knowledge; nor shall ever be able to discover general, instructive,
   unquestionable Truths concerning them. Certainty and Demonstration,
   are Things we must not, in these Matters, pretend to. (556-57)

What we now call "science" was not "scientifical" for Locke, for whom certainty remained the epistemological ideal. Locke found himself in an epistemological conundrum, for, as Margaret Ostler has pointed out, "whereas he continued to regard certainty as the earmark of genuine knowledge, he recognized that certainty was no longer a possible or an appropriate ideal for empirical science" (10-11). Experimental philosophy represented an epistemological crisis that challenged received notions of what constituted knowledge. This "new science" offered a serious critique of the Aristotelian insistence that natural philosophy provide a logical and therefore certain demonstration of the causal structure of the world. (23) Experiment could only offer an incomplete or partial understanding of the material world; it could not provide perfect knowledge of the essential nature of bodies.

The new epistemology that emerged in response to this critique of the Aristotelian approach to the study of natural phenomena was not strictly empirical; that is, it did not rely on sense experience alone. If the foundation for knowledge were to be found in experience, this new epistemology would have to find a way to ensure that the senses did not deceive. As Steven Shapin explains, "If experience was to play its foundational role in a reformed and orderly natural philosophy, therefore, it had to be controlled, monitored, and disciplined. If untutored sense was likely to mislead, then ways had to be found to negotiate what experience could properly ground philosophical reflection" (93-94). Experimental philosophy, then, required a Vulcan of its own, an artisan who could transform the "materia crasa" of the natural world into a work of art, a scientist who could recast experience as experiment.

Natural philosophers' ability to discipline sense perception and control experience through experiment allowed them to construct knowledge of the natural world. (24) But knowledge gained from experience, even the structured experience of experiment, could never achieve philosophical certainty. Experiment could generate facts, but a fact was not a cause, and, for no less a thinker that Thomas Hobbes, only knowledge of causes could constitute genuine knowledge; and, as he explains in "Seven Philosophical Problems," in the domain of natural phenomena, only God could have perfect knowledge of such causes: "The doctrine of natural causes hath not infallible and evident principles. For there is no effect which the power of God cannot produce by many several ways" (3). Robert Boyle, a member of Britain's Royal Society and Hobbes's antagonist in this epistemological struggle, did not deny God's efficacy; he simply did not think it a suitable question for natural philosophy: "I say, that our controversy is not what God can do, but about what can be done by natural agents, not elevated above the sphere of nature. For though God can both create and annihilate, yet nature can do neither" (149). Boyle sought legitimacy for his experimental program not in God, but in the assent of his fellow experimentalists. As Peter Dear explains, " Boyle emphasized experiment as the best way to make knowledge of nature that would command general assent. Everyone would be able to see for themselves what was claimed was actually true" (140).

In the course of the seventeenth century, then, experimental philosophy became a collective endeavor conducted in a public space and in the company of individuals who were equally committed to the experimental enterprise. This public space was not open to all, however. It was, as Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer have argued, "public in a very precisely defined way and very rigorously policed sense: not everyone could come in; not everybody's testimony was of equal worth. Not everybody was equally able to influence institutional consensus" (78). Hobbes, for example, never became a fellow of the Royal Society. (25) The foundations for experimental philosophy were to be found in a narrowly construed community whose members would collectively validate the knowledge produced by experiment. Seventeenth-century experimentalists who eschewed the Aristotelian learning of the past removed the locus of philosophical discourse from the universities and invested it in academies like the Royal Society in London and the Academie des Sciences in Paris, where committed practitioners could meet to witness and to debate the most recent developments. (26) They created new spaces that were at once public and private, where new approaches to the study of natural phenomena established new foundations for the construction of knowledge. Experimental philosophy was not an activity for the uninitiated.

Spain does not figure much at all in the historiography of the Scientific Revolution. William Eamon attributes this omission from the historical record to the same kind of anti-Hispanism that led to the creation of the "leyenda negra," an anti-Hispanism that contributed to the "marginalization of Spain from the narrative of modernity--and hence from the history of the Scientific Revolution" (17). Recent scholarship has sought to serve as a corrective to the commonly-held view that Spain, an empire in political and intellectual decline, remained stuck in the past while the likes of Descartes, Newton, and Leibnitz ushered their more enlightened neighbors to the north into the modern era. (27) But whatever political, religious, or intellectual prejudice northern Europeans may have had for the Spanish did not extend to Cervantes. In Les letters persanes, for example, Montesquieu has a Frenchman in Spain give this assessment of Spanish literary sensibilities:
   You can find intelligence and sense among the Spaniards, but do not
   look for it in their books. If you saw one of their libraries, with
   romances on one side and scholastic philosophy on the other, you
   would say that its parts had been created, and put together to form
   a whole, by some secret enemy of human reason. The only good book
   that thy have produced is one which reveals the absurdity of all
   the others. (156-157)

The Frenchman's critique is both stylistic and intellectual. The Spanish fill their bookshelves with vapid romances and Scholastic drivel, neither of which is grounded in reason. Cervantes, however, is different because his book, Don Quijote, puts the lie to all the others. Cervantes is a modern.

What we see in La cueva de Salamanca is modernity masked as farce, truth in the guise of engano. Carraolano offers all those assembled in Pancracio's house a virtuoso performance designed both to deceive and to illuminate. His metatheatrics are akin to what Paula Findlen has called "the theatrical world of scientific demonstration and experiment, where illusion and delusion were bywords' (319). Findlen explains that "[w]hile on a popular level, the illusory qualities of scientific play were classified as charlatanism, the more scholarly play of the virtuosi increasingly became a central feature of scientific activity" (319). Carraolano is just such a con man and charlatan whose performance nevertheless tells us something about what it means to know in the modern context. He uses the dramatist's power to turn an actor into a role--a something into a nothing--to turn the truth of Pancracio's marriage into an illusion. In doing so, he effects an aesthetic transformation that has real consequences for all who witness his play. In the course of the seventeenth century, natural philosophers would undertake similar performances in an effort to undermine the received wisdom of traditional learning, performances that were as much aesthetic as they were scientific. Pascal, for example, recognized the aesthetic implications of the experimental demonstration of the void:
   La nature n'a aucune repugnance pour le vide, qu'elle ne fait aucun
   effort pour l'eviter; que tous les effects qu'on a attribues a
   cette horreur procedent de la pesanteur et pression de fair; quelle
   en est la seule et veritable cause, et que, manque de la connaitre,
   on avait invente expres cette horreur imaginaire du vide, pour en
   rendre raison. Ce nest pas en cette seule rencontre que, quand la
   faiblesse des hommes n'a pu trouver les veritables causes, leur
   subtilite en a substitue d'imaginaires, qu'ils ont exprimees par
   des noms specieux qui remplissent les oreilles et non pas
   l'espirit. (400)

Pascal does more here than assert that nature does not abhor the vacuum; he also notes the human capacity to construct "imaginary causes" or fictions to explain what we do not understand. The "horror vacui" was for Pascal one such fiction, necessary, perhaps, to explain the workings of the natural world at an earlier point in time, but completely unnecessary once the true cause of the void--air pressure--had been identified. (28)

Not all natural philosophers were as convinced as Pascal of the existence of the void. Some, like Rene Descartes, continued to hold on to their cherished beliefs in the filled universe despite experimental evidence to the contrary. (29) We see the same kind tension between truth and illusion at the end of La cueva de Salamanca. Unlike God's divine omniscience, which is perfectly complete, modern understanding is a human creation, a product of human ingenuity that can offer only a partial understanding of the world. And unlike occult learning taught in the hidden recesses of the cave, modern knowledge is both public and communal. Carraolano becomes a true "conjurador," not when he calls the Sacristan and the Barbero out of the coal bin, but when he persuades all parties to agree that the figures before them are demons. That he does so in a "sala" testifies to the public and collective nature of modern thought. That the "sala" is also "manca," however, suggests that although human knowledge is available to all, it remains fragmented and incomplete. Pancracio, after all, has only a partial understanding of the conjugal bond that yokes him to his wife. His belief in the sanctity of his marriage, a belief he maintains in the face of all evidence to the contrary, now coexists with Leonarda's extramarital liaison with the Sacristan. No longer a union ordained by God, Pancracio's marriage is a union of the sacred and the obscene. (30) Knowledge has become plural, as Pancracio himself acknowledges when he invites the entire company in to eat, saying:

Entremos; que quiero averiguar si los diablos comen o no, con otras cien mil cosas que dellos cuentan; y, por Dios, que no han de salir de mi casa hasta que me dejen ensenado en la ciencia y ciencias que se ensenan en la Cueva de Salamanca. (255; my emphasis)

In the end, it will be desire that will prove to be Pancracio's undoing, not Leonardos sexual desire for the Sacristan, but his own furtive desire to be initiated into the inner sanctum of Carraolano's Cave. Pancracio is duped, not by Carraolano, who, unlike Leonarda, puts Pancracio's uncrowning on public display for all to see and judge, but by his own thirst for the transcendent, for while Pancracio expects to find in the cave the source of transcendental knowledge, what he will find is an epistemology of Carraolano's making: knowledge cast in human terms.

In La cueva de Salamanca, the Scholastic insistence on philosophical certainty grounded in authority that has not yet exited the epistemological stage coexists with a new philosophy--la filosofia nueva--that incorporates uncertainty and imperfection into the epistemological foundations of modernity. In locating this epistemological crisis in a "sala-manca," the empty stage of Pancracio's house, Cervantes reminds his audience, whose own understanding is a function of dramatic irony, that meaning is never absolute either in the theatrical performance they see before them or in the modern world that is to come. At the heart of theatrical knowledge is the relationship that must exist between the actor and the role, between the "is" and the "is not." Embedded within the overt meaning of the comedia, then, is the whisper of an "is not" that threatens to say something else. Gerli is right to insist that El retablo de las maravillas serves an "Arte nuevo de deshacer comedias." But El retablo is not a counter manifesto to Lope's "Arte nuevo de hacer comedias." It is, rather, an acknowledgement that the act of undoing is necessary for the construction of modern knowledge. Cervantes does not simply present us with an alternative vision for the comedia; he suggests that the space of theatrical production both dismantles the old order and allows for the creation of something new. He understands the epistemological crisis of his age as an intellectual "pancracio," a wrestling match from which a new set of relations will emerge. (31) At the end of La cueva de Salamanca, Pancracio enters into the "sala-manca" unaware of the dangers that lie within. The empty space that Carraolano creates has already dismantled the absolute authority he once enjoyed in his home. Pancracio's desire for the absolute will ironically return him to himself. It will lead him away from the dark and recondite occult and into contested communal space, where he will have to struggle with others to construct knowledge that is public, partial and subject to revision. To enter into "Sala-manca" is to give up certainty for science.


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(1) Lopez Pinero has written extensively on the question of Spain's participation in and reception of the nueva filosofia in both his La introduccion de la ciencia moderna en Espana and Ciencia y tecnica en la sociedad espanola de los siglos XVI y XVII.

(2) For an overview of the neo-scholasticism of the Salamanca School, see Hamilton; and Harding.

(3) For a discussion of the founding of the Regia Sociedad de Medicina, see Barras de Aragon; and Padgen (131-34).

(4) Historians are not all in agreement that this commonly held view is valid, with such notable scholars as J. H. Elliott and Henry Kamen on opposite sides of the issue. For an excellent overview of the controversy, see Rawlings.

(5) In the introduction to her translation of Sanches's Quod nihil scritur, Limbrick argues that although Sanches, like Montaigne, was a Christian skeptic who maintained that perfect knowledge belonged only to God, philosophical inquiry predicated on doubt could provide a qualified understanding of the world. For a discussion of the relationship between judgment and uncertainty in Sanches's understanding of skepticism, see Romao.

(6) Earlier generations of scholars read Gracian in an entirely different way. In his discussion of desengano, for example, Otis Green argues that Gracian espoused an "optimistic doctrine" (54), saying, "Caer en la cuenta--to come to oneself--was the phrase most used in connection with the type of desengano we are considering here. It signified a passing from ignorance to knowledge, an awakening from the falsity of one's dream. Baltasar Gracian--no pessimist--in the allegory of this awakening which he entitled El Criticon, places the blame for life's confusion where it belongs: on man, not on the Creator" (49; my emphasis). For a discussion of pessimism in Gracian, see Robbins.

(7) For a good discussion of Cervantes's understanding of Humanist poetics, see Kinny.

(8) The question of ambiguity in Cervantes has a long critical history. Duran begins his discussion of the problem with Jose Ortega y Gasset's assertion that "el Quijote es un equivoco" (75). The perspectivism espoused by Americo Castro and Leo Spitzer has also played a foundational role in the development of the theme.

(9) In his Cervantes, Aristotle and the Persiles, Alban Forcione takes up the question of Cervantes's implicit dialogue with Aristotle, tracing the "development of [...] aesthetic problems fundamental to all of Cervantes' critical examinations of Aristotelian dogma" (5).

(10) Carraolano fits Forcione's characterization of Cervantes's figure of the poet. According to Forcione, these fictional artists are often "tainted with criminality; they glory not in the act of edification but rather in the act of deception; any supernatural connections which they may have are infernal; and their abode is not the city, but some underworld kingdom which is opposed to all conventional values" (306). On the relationship between artistic self-referentiality found in metatheater and seventeenth-century skepticism, see Simerka.

(11) Timothy Gantz gives two versions of the myth of Hephaistos, the Greek analogue of Vulcan. In Homer's Hymn to Apollo, Hera casts Hephaistos out of Olympos when she discovers that her son is crippled. In the Iliad, however, Zeus casts Hephaistos out of Olympos as punishment for having come to the aid of his mother (74-75).

(12) Sesbastian de Covarrubias makes explicit the relationship between Vulcan and fire: "Al fuego llaman los poetas algunas vezes Vulcano porque fingen averie hallado en la tierra, y aunque hijo de Juno y marido de Venus, era herrero, feo y coxo, en la isla de Iemno" (6n).

(13) Carraolano's claim to have studied in the Cueva de Salamanca identifies him as a student of magic, which one could argue occupied the middle ground between religion and science in the Early Modern period. For a discussion of the relationship between religion and magic, see Scribner. For a discussion of the relationship between magic and science, see Stark. For an overview of the role magic played in the emergence of modern mathematical and scientific sensibilities, see Smith; Tambiah; and Grafton.

(14) The relationship between El retablo and the larger comedia that Gerli describes is only hypothetical because, as Cory Reed explains, Cervantes's entremeses were never performed ("Novelization" 62-63).

(15) David Quint sees the same relational structure at play in Don Quijote, arguing that: "Cervantes carefully plays [the] interpolated stories off against Don Quijotes chivalric career and against one another. The meaning of the novel is thus created relationally, and a reading of any part of Don Quijote will be incomplete if it is not placed within this corresponding whole" (x; original emphasis).

(16) In his edition of the play, Nicholas Spadaccini claims that place names (Tudanca, Palanca, Loranca) have no real significance but appear "simplemente por necesidad de consonancia con Salamanca" (Cervantes 254n74).

(17) Covarrubias defines "sala" as a "Pieca grande y donde el senor sale a negociar; y dixose assi porque se sale a ella de las quadras y quarto sectreto" (921).

(18) Covarrubias gives an expanded version of the refran: "El perro del herrero duerme a las martilladas y despierta a las dentelladas" (684). In his edition of the play, Spadaccini draws attention to the refran, but says that the Sacristan uses it to indicate that he and Reponce are feeling "despreocupados" (Cervantes 252064).

(19) Covarrubias gives two definitions for conjurar: "Vale jurar juntamente con otros; y tomase casi siempre en mala parte, a verbo coniuro, simul iuro, consentio, conspiro" (349); and "Significa algunas vezes exorcisar. Conjurar nublados y demonios" (349). The Diccionario de Autoridades adds that the term can also mean to entreat, implore or beg: "Vale tambien pedir, rogar encarecidamente, y en cierto modo mandar que se haga u declare alguna cosa que es de importancia" (1: 516).

(20) Dian Fox disagrees with Gaylord's identification of the artist with Vulcan, a lame god and flawed poet. For Fox, the poet is a manifestation of the divine, saying "For fictional entities ruled by the hand of a benevolent, omnipotent poet--even if he is manco, not withstanding Mary Gaylord Randel's ingenious argument to the contrary--, anything is possible, including resurrection from death" (413).

(21) For a discussion of the interplay of illusion and enlightenment in Cervantes, see Haley; and Reed ("Ludic").

(22) For a discussion of how the devil became increasingly more associated with natural-phenomena in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, see Keitt.

(23) For an excellent overview of the transition from the demand that natural philosophy provide formal causes for natural phenomena to what we now understand as laws of nature, see Joy.

(24) According to Amos Funkenstein, "The study of nature in the seventeenth century was neither predominantly idealistic nor empirical. It was first and foremost constructive, pragmatic in the radical sense. It would lead to the conviction that only the doable--at least in principle--is also understandable" (178).

(25) Quentin Skinner acknowledges that Hobbes may well have been excluded from the Royal Society because he had incurred the enmity of three of the founding members of the Society: Robert Boyle, John Wallis and Paul Neile. But he goes on to argue that Hobbes was not the only prominent intellectual so spurned. The only explanation for these exclusions was that in the early days, the Royal Society functioned more as a gentleman's club than as a scientific society (238).

(26) For a discussion of the spaces where experimental philosophy was practiced, see Shapin ("The House of Experiment").

(27) For an example of how recent scholars have begun to understand the contributions Spain made to the development of modern science, see Navarro Bronons and Eamon.

(28) For a detailed account of the physical experiments that led to the acceptance of the reality of the void, see Middleton. For a broader discussion of the history of spatial theories, see Grant.

(29) Descartes chose not to respond to Pascal in any systematic way, although we know from his letters to Christian Huygens, Marin Mersenne, and Pierre de Carcavy that he had serious doubts about the conclusions Pascal had drawn about the physical existence of the void. Descartes maintained the impossibility of the vacuum throughout his life, arguing that there could be no extension (space) without body. The clearest articulation of this position can be found in part two, article sixteen of The Principles of Philosophy, where he argues "That a vacuum in the philosophical sense of the term (that is, a space in which there is absolutely no [material] substance) cannot exist is evident from the fact that the extension of space, or of internal place, does not differ from the extension of body. From the sole fact that a body is extended in length, breadth, and depth; we rightly conclude that it is a substance: because it is entirely contradictory for that which is nothing to possess extension. And the same must also be concluded about space which is said to be empty: that, since it certainly has extension, there must necessarily also be substance in it" (46-47).

(30) For a discussion of how sacramental marriage intersects with the law, see Gonzalez Echevarria.

(31) Cristina Castillo Martinez argues that pancracio, a kind of free wrestling that was one of the events in the ancient Greek Olympic Games, was one of several competitions found in pastoral literature whose function was both public and communal in nature (54): "Su funcion puede ser muy distinta: constituyen un descanso para el lector en lo que a la narracion de los infortunios de los pastores se refiere; del lamento se pasa a la diversion, de la introspeccion a la manifestacion publica y colectiva de algunos sentimientos" (52).
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Author:Burton, Grace M.
Publication:Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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